SP-401 Skylab, Classroom in Space

 

Part II

Student Experiments

 

[29] The scientific experiments proposed by high school students across the nation constituted an integral part of the Skylab program. Obviously the students could not personally perform their experiments in space; however, they were intimately involved in their planning and the development of special equipment where such was required. They also took an active part, working closely with NASA scientists, in the preparation of the protocol to be followed by the Skylab astronauts who performed their experiments. Finally, the students were responsible for the analysis of experimental data returned to Earth and the preparation of a final report on their work.

Seven basic areas of study were covered by the experiments selected for flight. These were astronomy, botany, Earth observations, microbiology, physics, physiology, and zoology. Some of the experiments were based upon equipment already planned for Skylab, and others required special but simple and inexpensive equipment. The experiments were both rewarding and instructive to the students. Several provided valuable, new scientific data.

 

[30] Part II - Student Experiments

 

Chapter 2: Skylab and Education.

picture showing the launch of Skylab aboard a Saturn V rocket.
 

[31] From its beginning the Skylab program was envisioned by its management personnel and by William C. Schneider, its director, as having implications that went far beyond the technological problems of construction and flight, even beyond its significant researches on the frontiers of science and technology. They saw this program with its numerous experiments and long-duration flights as having a societal, as well as a scientific significance.

The management group perceived that Skylab's significance would necessitate understanding by those responsible in the schools for the education of future generations of youth. With this in mind, they supported NASA's Educational Programs Division with a program that included not only the pre-flight and flight years, but also the post-flight period.

This support permitted the production of instructional films and curriculum-related publications, and it also encouraged the conduct of educational conferences, including a joint conference of the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) and the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), a conference which some say was the first time that professional associations representative of the social and natural sciences had formally met to discuss the social implications of science and technology. Skylab management also provided speakers for professional associations of educators, and the necessary information and background for NASA's Spacemobile personnel, who meet and address each year hundreds of thousands of adults and students.

One of the most successful of the Skylab educational efforts, however, was the Skylab Student Project. This was a nationwide contest in which secondary school students submitted proposals for experiments to fly on Skylab. The official announcement of the program was made in October 1971. Over 87 500 entry forms were requested by students throughout the country. Over 4000 students responded with 3409 proposals by February 4, 1972, the closing date for the competition. Proposals were received from all 50 states and 9 high schools overseas, from students in grades 7 through 12. From 12 regional eliminations held in the several geographic areas of the United States, 301 of these proposals were selected for screening in March 1972 by a national selection committee. Twenty-five were selected as winners, and 22 others were selected for special mention.

The proposals were evaluated on the basis of creativity, organization in terms of concept and implementation, applicability to the space environment, and adherence to the rules laid down.

In the subsequent evaluations of these 25 proposed experiments in terms of their suitability for flight, NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC), Huntsville, Ala., the lead center for Skylab, selected 19. The remaining six were deemed not compatible with Skylab. Estimates made before the contest concerning the number of proposals which would be of the quality to fly....

 


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The United States was divided into 12 geographical regions to facilitate handling student proposals for Skylab. [link to a greater picture]

The United States was divided into 12 geographical regions to facilitate handling student proposals for Skylab.

 

....ranged from zero to two or three. The fact that there were 19 experiments to fly, plus another 6 that were eligible, speaks highly of American secondary school science.

The winning proposals were then submitted to MSFC for detailed evaluation in conjunction with other NASA centers involved in the Skylab project. For those experiments requiring especially made experimental equipment, the analysis considered the feasibility of the needed data, conceptual design, and the impact of such a device on the astronauts and various systems of the Skylab. Also considered was the time needed to develop such experiments and the difficulty of fitting them into the Skylab's closely controlled needs for space and power.

As sometimes happens with important ideas, "the time for which has arrived," the idea for a Skylab student project surfaced at several different points in the early years of Skylab planning: at Skylab Program Headquarters, Washington, D.C.; Skylab Program Management, Marshall Space Flight Center; NASA Educational Programs, Washington, D.C.; Martin Marietta Aerospace, Denver, Colo.; the several elements of the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA); and the personnel of Science Service, Washington, D.C. The factor that led to the decision to conduct a student project was a phone call from Leland F. Belew, Skylab Program Manager, MSFC, to Schneider at NASA Headquarters. Belew's initiative grew out of conversations he had had on the subject with Kenneth P. Timmons, Skylab Program Director, Martin Marietta Aerospace. The final decision to conduct the project was made in February 1971.

Project policy, guidelines, general procedures, [33] and budget were decided in Washington; problems of accommodation of student experiments to Skylab requirements were worked out in Huntsville. In the summer of 1971, NASA Headquarters contracted with the National Science Teachers Association, the professional association of science education with approximately 30 000 members and strong regional as well as national leadership, to conduct this project.

The profession of secondary school science teaching welcomed the concept. Faculty and students recognized that by it they would be introduced to the conduct of research in the medium of a vacuum, at zero gravity, and amid the cosmic forces of space. Never before had secondary school science teaching been introduced at such an early stage to an emerging realm of scientific investigation. The project also provided for most secondary school science teachers and pupils their first direct experience with the procedures incident to conducting research in large-scale, complex government projects.

The NSTA admirably took responsibility for the conduct of the regional and final evaluations of the thousands of student proposals. It also handled the logistics for conferences of the selected 25 students at MSFC in May 1972 and at the NASA Kennedy Space Center (KSC) during launch time, May 1973.

At the MSFC conference, in addition to talks by scientists, introduction to Skylab by managers, and a tour of the center, the students and their teachers met with their respective science advisers of the MSFC Skylab team to grapple with problems of integrating student experiments with Skylab. At the KSC conference the students, their teachers and parents, and NSTA leaders who worked on the project heard talks by leading scientists, held discussions with other principal Skylab investigators, toured the Kennedy Center, and witnessed the Skylab launch.

The conference at MSFC was organized to give the students direct experience with the problems of experiment integration on a spacecraft. Midnight oil was burned on numerous occasions during....

 


The twenty-five winners in the Skylab student program met for the first time at the Marshall Space Flight Center, in Huntsville, Alabama, in May 1972.

The twenty-five winners in the Skylab student program met for the first time at the Marshall Space Flight Center, in Huntsville, Alabama, in May 1972.


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A preliminary design review for students' experiments at the Marshall Space Flight Center in 1972 was hard work, but Daniel Bochsler, center, and his teacher-adviser Richard Putnam, left, had the opportunity to meet Astronaut Owen Garriott, right.

A preliminary design review for students' experiments at the Marshall Space Flight Center in 1972 was hard work, but Daniel Bochsler, center, and his teacher-adviser Richard Putnam, left, had the opportunity to meet Astronaut Owen Garriott, right.

 

.....the week in preparation for the individual experiment presentations. Students, teacher sponsors, NASA-appointed science advisers, and members of the experiment integration team worked diligently in reviewing, revising, and making final preparation of the students' material for the review board. The climax came when each one presented to the board his or her proposal, together with any necessary modifications recommended by the science adviser.

For those experiments requiring specially built equipment, a prototype was shown, together with development and test plans for the flight version. For those experiments that were to utilize Skylab's experiments, the specific unit was identified, and a plan for using it was discussed. If the proposed experiment was associated with a major experiment of a scientist or principal investigator and he was available, he also participated in the review.

The result of the preliminary design review was the definition of 8 experiments not requiring new instruments, 11 needing them, and 6 that were not compatible with the Skylab. Efforts were made to permit students whose proposals were judged incompatible to participate through affiliation with principal investigators having experiments in related fields.

A mission-planning meeting was held at Johnson Space Center (JSC), in Houston, Tex., on May 23, 1972. The experiments to be included in Skylab were reconfirmed, together with the rationale for elimination of 6 of the 25 experiments from further Skylab development. Also, problem areas were defined, and various solutions were considered.

The student experiment critical design reviews were held at MSFC between August 8 and 10, 1972. The 11 students whose experiments required new equipment attended with their science advisers. The final selection of student experiments, by category, is shown in table 1. Development and program planning for the student experiments proceeded at an accelerated pace. All student experiments were delivered to Kennedy Space Center for installation aboard Skylab during the last week of January 1973.

 

TABLE 1. Skylab Student Experiments.

Category I

Duplication of data planned to be acquired using Skylab experimental equipment

.

ED11

Atmospheric attenuation of energy

ED12

Volcanic study

ED21

Lunar libration clouds

ED22

Objects within Mercury's orbit

.

Category II

Data from Skylab experiments with program impacts

.

ED23

UV from quasars

ED24

X-ray stellar classes

ED25

X-rays from Jupiter

ED26

UV from pulsars

.

Category III

New experiments required

.

ED31

Bacteria and spores

ED32

In vitro immunology

ED41

Motor-sensory performance

ED52

Web formation

ED61

Plant growth

ED62

Plant phototropism

ED63

Cytoplasmic streaming

ED72

Capillary study

ED74

Mass measurement

ED76

Neutron analysis

ED78

Liquid motion

.

Category IV

Experiments requiring other disposition or affiliation

.

ED33

Micro-organisms in varying gravity

ED51

Chick embryology

ED71

Colloidal state

ED73

Powder flow

ED75

Brownian motion

ED77

Universal gravity


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Student experiments underwent a receiving inspection upon arrival at Kennedy Space Center after they were tested on a vibration table inside their storage locker at Marshall Space Flight Center.

Student experiments underwent a receiving inspection upon arrival at Kennedy Space Center after they were tested on a vibration table inside their storage locker at Marshall Space Flight Center.


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